A Day Trip to Salem
Last weekend my best friend and I took a day trip to Salem, MA. We wanted something close enough, by the water, and ‘New-Englandy’, that wasn’t a trip to the beach. Salem seemed like a good option—having both grown up here, it occurred to us we hadn’t actually been there. And when we thought about it, we realized we really didn’t know anything factual about the Salem witch trials or related history, so off we went.
Our first stop was the Witch House, also known as the Jonathan Corwin House. The house was built in 1642 and later restored in the 1940s. We poked around the grounds and couldn’t help but want to go in—with its dark wood, pointed roof, and criss-crossed iron windows, it certainly gives the impression of a ‘witches house’. Word to the wise: turns out, this may have been exaggerated intentionally. While it was interesting to tour the house and see some of the artifacts from that time period, it still cost $10.25. The house is really more of a museum of what it was like to live back then than anything else (if you read the materials closely, it says it’s ‘the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the Witchcraft Trials of 1692’). Still, the staff members were very knowledgeable, and told us where to go next.
At this point, I began chiding myself that I knew so little (more like nothing) about that time period. I recalled images of The Crucible; I knew I had an old copy of one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s books lying around, but couldn’t remember which one, and that was all. Despite the fact that much of downtown Salem more or less exploits tourists’ curiosity about the events that transpired in the famous town, you can’t help but feel the memory of that famous history while walking about—it’s pervasive and certainly heightens your curiosity.
The main square through the town is very touristy; there’s a red line painted along the sidewalks to guide you from one site to another. There is indeed a proper ‘Witch Museum’, but it’s more of a theatrical representation, complete with life-size figures and reimagined background sets with voiceovers and a live tour guide. It would probably be fun to take children on the tour, but otherwise, I’d skip it. It’s also $11 for admission. (Despite this, I’ve heard that going around Halloween is when the touristy aspects feel more appropriate.)
By far, one of the best parts of Salem was the House of Seven Gables, located right on the water on gorgeously well-kept grounds. There’s lots of interesting history surrounding this houses’ story, and the house itself is in impeccable condition. It’s the oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansion in New England and was home to some of New England’s most prominent and wealthy families (Nathaniel Hawthorne lived here with his cousin for a time, thus inspiring the novel of the same name), and photos are not allowed, but trust me when I say the lush decor of the rooms and old-fashioned architecture is reason enough to go. It’s also a lovely spot to hang out by the water. Not to mention, one of the oldest candy stores in the country is across the street: Ye Old Pepper. You don’t really get a sense of that walking in; it’s filled with candies you can pretty much buy anywhere, but still worth checking out. (Because we didn’t find any candy we were psyched about, we stopped at Treadwells Ice Cream on our way home, which was great.)
Outside of the touristy things, however, there is plenty reason to go. By simply wandering the tiny, meandering streets on foot, you see plenty—some of the houses are the oldest in the region—and truly get a sense of what it might have been like to live there, when Salem was a bustling town in its day of province. It seems to be undergoing a revival, as well—I saw lots of neighbors with young families and small kids on bikes, smiling on sidewalks.
What’s been haunting me (ha, ha) since, though, are the legends, folk tales, and tall tales from one of the most zealous periods of time in our state’s—not to mention country’s—history. So many of what we’ve come to know as ‘facts’ have taken on a suspicious air, lending itself nicely to the surroundings of one of Massachusetts’ oldest and most storied towns.
More on Salem from The Boston Day Book:
Louise takes a fall day trip to Salem.
We stay at The Merchant.
Pizza and more at Bambolina.
Elizabeth’s tips on the Peabody Essex Museum with kids.
Lisa is writer who has recently returned to Boston, and is getting to know the city again from her base in the South End. Her work includes both fiction and non-fiction — be sure to check out her portfolio here, and catch up with her on Instagram. See all posts from Lisa here.
Image Credit: Lisa Gordon